Unlike reading, writing and arithmetic, basic money management is a skill that young people don't necessarily learn in school. Lucky teens may learn the ropes from their parents. The less-fortunate ones figure out the truths about credit cards and saving on their own, usually by making costly mistakes.
According to a 2009 survey by the Council on Economic Education, just 13 states require students to take a high school personal finance course in order to graduate. Minnesota isn't one of them.
But that's not stopping individual districts from forging their own plan to graduate financially capable students. Starting with this year's freshmen, the Hopkins school district requires the completion of a personal finance course to receive a diploma. While no one tracks how many Minnesota districts have similar requirements, it's safe to say it's pretty rare.
David Braaten, business education chair at Hopkins High School, has been pushing for the requirement for a long time without gaining much traction. The financial crisis changed that.
"I think parents and school board members, they just thought 'How can we have kids graduate and not really know how to maneuver their finances?' The urgency of it really spiked," Braaten said. After floating the idea in a district-wide strategic planning meeting, and hearing enthusiasm from educators and parents, the school board approved the new requirement, beginning with this year's ninth graders.
Business teacher Jesse Theirl is running the inaugural classes, planning lessons on identity theft, electronic banking and how education and career decisions affect personal finance choices. He has big plans for the course, emphasizing skills his students will use for the rest of their lives. Because we're all better at absorbing information that we can relate to, Theirl plans to customize his lessons for each teen. For example, those who aspire to be teachers will use starting salary information for the profession in exercises that teach saving, the ins and outs of purchasing a home, and managing risks with insurance.
College credit for money class?
Many districts offer a personal finance course as an elective. Business educator Jim Eisenreich says it's a popular choice at Eden Prairie High School, where he teaches. And it's poised to become even more desirable if a plan to receive college credit at Normandale Community College for taking the high school money course is approved. Wayzata High School partnered with North Hennepin Community College to offer college credit beginning last year. The move increased enrollment, said business teacher Candy Lee.
Considering the cost of college is a major concern for most parents and their kids, "college credit for a personal finance course may be as good, or better, than having a state or district requirement," Eisenreich wrote in an e-mail.
For students in districts that aren't enhancing personal finance requirements, state education standards dictate what they learn. Personal finance benchmarks tend to coexist with the economics standards as part of the state social studies standards. This year, those standards are under review. The current draft contains at least 10 benchmarks -- the specific skills and knowledge students must achieve to meet a standard -- with subject matter beginning in elementary school. Just three benchmarks exist in the current standards, which date back to 2004. Once finalized, the new standards will apply for the 2013-2014 school year.
Having more robust standards is great. That is, if teachers are given the tools and time needed to educate our kids. Nine states require testing of personal finance requirements. That's not a bad idea, since we all know teachers are under pressure to teach subjects that are tested.
Although talk of more financial education peaked after the financial crisis, "it's hard to introduce a requirement when [schools] don't have budget for materials or teacher training," said Laura Levine, president of the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. She's seen fewer states moving toward financial literacy requirements, "not for a lack of interest, but the reality of the economy and available budgets."
Kara McGuire • 612-673-7293 or kmcguire@ startribune.com. Twitter: @Kara_McGuire.